by Phil Johnson
he artist currently known as "Johnny Dialectic" cited a snippet in his comment on Monday's post that put me onto an article by Alan Rifkin that was at one time buried somewhere in obscurity on the Web. Although the only current Web-based html version of the article is untitled, undocumented, and badly formatted, I did a little research and discovered it was originally published in the 23 November 2003 Los Angeles Times Magazine. The title was "Jesus with a Genius Grant" (subhead: "Fuller Theological Seminary is Teaching that Smart Christians Can Have it All: Science and the Bible, Body and Soul, Left and Right. To Some, That’s Apocalypse Now. To Others, There’s No Turning Back.")
Here is the full article in .pdf format (courtesy of the Internet Wayback Machine).
It's a surprisingly prescient analysis of postmodern religion from a left-leaning secular newspaper's Sunday magazine. It's also a window into the agenda of Tony Jones and Emergent Villagealthough when the article was written, Jones hadn't yet taken his current role as National Director, and the organization was merely an informal "Coalition". In fact, Rifkin's piece was originally published a full year before Christianity Today introduced "The Emergent Mystique" to its readers with a breathless cover article.
The LA Times article seems to have garnered only kudoseven though Rifkin says some of the very same kind of things I've been harshly criticized for saying. (For example, he writes that "a vocal vanguard of younger Christians who call themselves 'Post- Evangelicals' . . . have tasted the peyote of postmodern ambiguity and been steadily coming on.") But Rifkin was writing as something of an admirer, not a critic, so apparently he was free to speak plainly without being angrily deconstructed.
Note: Rifkin's article was published exactly four years ago today. He was describing a more or less deliberate strategy to sell liberal and postmodern ideas to young evangelicals without upsetting the older conservative donor base. The key to the plan (as most of Rifkin's post-evangelical interviewees described it) was stealth, speed, and subterfuge. The "post-conservatives" were determined to infuse their talking points into the evangelical agenda before conservative evangelicals saw what was happening and hit back with any kind of "organized criticism."
In other words, the goal from the start was not really "conversation" at all, but the preempting of critics.
Here are some salient excerpts from Rifkin's article (emphases added):
"Reaching out to the secular left." That's the post-evangelical holy grail. The quest for that prize is the byproduct of a value-system that dates back to the inception of Fuller Seminary and the high priority the founders of that institution placed on "academic respectability." By the 1960s a similar mentality defined the neo-evangelical strategy for fulfilling the Great Commission: Win the world by first winning the world's respect and affections. Now Emergent has taken friendship with the world one giant step further, pursuing the secular left's admirationbut not necessarily its conversionas the goal and end-game of their outreach strategy.
Apparently the Great Commission is not nearly as interesting to some Emergents as the media-relations handbook of the Democratic National Committee. Seriously. I'm currently reading Brian McLaren's Everything Must Change (in slow, small doses), and his list of The Biggest Problems in the World is borrowed straight from the doomsday eschatology of the secular left. As I've already noted elsewhere, McLaren's perspective is deliberately worldly, and this is why. In his big-picture outline of all the world's truly threatening evils, he has nothing whatsoever to say about humanity's sin problem.
In fact, by McLaren's way of reckoning, the real culprit in all the world's worst atrocities is not Original Sin at all, but (get this:) overconfidence. The damnable sin of certainty. Yes, you heard him right. "Excessive confidence"not greed, a lust for power, rebellion against God's law, or even the seven deadly sins, but too much certaintyis what "cost millions of people their lives and millions more their dignity" in the horrible pre-postmodern era.
In other words, McLaren accepts the standard postmodern substitute for Original Sin: Certainty is a cancer. Everything that's wrong in the world goes back to that. In fact, the world's woes pretty much started with René Descartes. (Of course, if you had simply listened to your college lit professor you would know all of this already.) Cartesian foundationalism is a deadly virus that has infected all our minds, our theology, and the church itself. So what we desperately need now is a "debugged version of the Christian faith."
Fortunately, Brian is here (like a kindly Mr. Rogers clone with his comfortable sweaters, Dockers, gentle voice, and soothing, avuncular style) to tell us how we can "reintroduce" a new, more comfortableand more likeableJesus to the world. It all requires a new "framing story" that borrows its key elements from John Dominic Crossan, Walter Rauschenbusch, and socialist dogma. It champions redistribution of the world's wealth as a kind of panacea for the ills caused by our ancestors' overconfidence, and it lobbies for practically every cause that energizes Hillary Clinton.
But Brian assures us this will win for us the world's respect and approval. After all, we wouldn't want to think of Jesus' Kingdom as anything other than a pure populist democracy, would we?
Hankering for the world's esteem is incompatible with authentic gospel ministry. Scripture is jarringly clear about this: "Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4). In the words of the apostle Paul, "Do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10). And in the words of Christ Himself (Dan Kimball's latest book title notwithstanding), the world hated Jesus, and it will also hate those who follow Him faithfully:
If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. (John 15:18-21).We're not supposed to court the world's favor, and whenever you see church leaders utterly obsessed with being "liked" by non-Christians, you are looking at a brand of Christianity that is unbiblical, unfaithful to Christ, and unfit to bear His name.